God in Eternity and Time, Robert E. Picirilli. Nashville: B & H Acacdemic, 2022.
Summary: A case for libertarian freedom without forgoing belief in the foreknowledge of God, rooted in how God acts and reveals himself in creation.
One of the ongoing challenges in theology is that what we believe of God’s eternal character, that God is immutable and omniscient, and how we see God’s working in creation, in space and time, seem often at odds with each other. Even the very act of creation reflects a change. And God continues to work in creation, often in interaction with human beings, even in response to human prayers and actions. And then there is the question of human freedom. If God foreknows all things, can humans truly be said to act in freedom. Or is this only apparent and our “choices” are determined? Or, as those who hold to open theism, is God’s foreknowledge limited in some way.
Robert Picirilli takes on these issues in this book. He argues that the “eternal” qualities of God ought be understood in light of what is revealed to us in scripture of God’s acts in time and space in the creation. He argues that what we learn of God’s acts and character in history ought shape our ideas of the eternal God rather than the other way around. All we have with clarity is how God has interacted with us in the creation.
This leads Picirilli to take seriously anthropomorphisms like God’s “eyes,” “ears,” and “hands.” This is not in the sense of corporeality, but in the sense that God sees, hears, and acts and we should not reduce these truths to metaphysical abstractions. Likewise, he treats foreknowledge not simply from an eternal perspective, determining events, but rather through God’s participation in the space/time world. He writes, “What God knows eternally, and exhaustively, about the course of events in this world he knows from the course of events in this world–not vice versa.”
Thus, he argues that we may affirm both God’s unchanging character and foreknowledge and God’s actions in the world and libertarian human freedom. His contention, as evident in the title is that we must always do our theology at the intersection of eternity and time, with what we see from scripture about God’s decisions and acts in time shaping our understanding of the eternal God.
Picirilli engages other formulations with chapter length critiques: Paul Helm’s argument from foreknowledge against human freedom, the open theism of Clark Pinnock and others, and the Molinist ideas of middle knowledge espoused by William Lane Craig.
What I appreciate about the approach of Picirilli is that rather than beginning with metaphysical arguments, he begins with God’s disclosures of God’s self in scripture, and particularly the human encounter with God in the space/time context of creation. I did find myself wondering about the ways God either discloses himself or is revealed by inspired writers that are eternal. He avoids discussion of predestination, including in a discussion of Ephesians 1:3-7 (p. 130). It seems to me easier to argue how foreknowledge and libertarian freedom may stand alongside each other. The case for predestination and libertarian freedom seems more challenging. I think Picirilli’s approach of what is revealed in space and time points the way, in which people respond in faith, choosing the Lord over all others, only to discover their chosenness and belovedness by God “before the creation of the world.” It can be argued that predestination and freely choosing Christ also come together at this intersection of eternity and time.
This is a careful, well-argued, and concise book that sets forth a case, engages alternatives, returning again and again to scripture from Genesis 1 to Exodus to the Gospels to make its case. It avoids speculation and builds around what God has made known.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.